|1966 - SP5 Paul R. Wilson||20xx - Paul R. Wilson|
On my eighteen birthday, like all young American men, I went down to the local draft board and registered. I "Volunteered Draft" and nine days out of high school found myself in Fort Benning, Georgia.
My advanced training was at Fort Eustis, Virginia in aircraft hydraulic and electrical subsystems. With a brief side trip back to Ft Benning to train in falling, I arrived in Long Bien Replacement center just two days before Thanksgiving, 1966. That is without a doubt the worst experience of my life.
I reported to the first sergeant. The Company Commander, Major George S. Murry explained to me that he had plenty of gunners. He wanted crew chiefs. So he transferred me to 405th TC for some on the job training.
In the 405th, I did about everything, until they found out that I knew more about aircraft hydraulics than anyone there, and was able to repair hydraulic components. After that it was an on-going fight to rejoin the 170th. My chance came with the new "H" model Huey.
Huey 66-16577 was new, and all mine. There was a catch of course: I had to let someone else fly it. The Aircraft Commander was Warrant Officer 2 "Chief" Selba Khomer Beaty, my gunner was SP4 Johnathan Palmer, and an endless number of Peter Pilots who later became very experienced AC's.
Our mornings started at between 4:30 and 5 AM. After preflight of the aircraft and the gunner putting on the guns, we waited for the pilots, who may have already pre-flighted and went to briefing or pre-flighted on their return.
The mission was simple: Fly to Dak To in the dark, refuel, hook up with two gunships (this would make flight of four) second slick would be "chase" and already with you. Take off at first light and fly due west, across the river. There, we would either contact a ground "A" team for re-supply or we would insert or extract the team. The A teams were made up of two or three SF and four Yards, or little people. If we were contacting them, we would avoid the area they were in and talk with them via radio. Sometimes problems developed as "Charlie" would try to track teams. Radio frequencies were randomly changed daily. There might be two or four of these trips a day.
The insertion or extraction would be to any area large enough, or almost large enough, to land. Most of the area was triple canopy, meaning three levels of vegetation. The pilot may have flown the helicopter but he had to develop a lot of trust in the crew members because they were his eyes. Because no LZ was made to land in, the gunner and crew chief normally talked the pilot into landing or pickup position. Unlike the south where all the helicopters landed at once, in the north it was one or two at a time. "Charlie" knew this and waited for the second ship before firing.
If you followed a "Daisey Cutter" (very large bomb out of a C-130) it was a cold LZ for about an hour. Most insertions were repelling -- where you would hover at or just below tree tops and the team would repel down, hoping not to drop in on the NVANC. The object here was for crew to see the ground. There was the time we didn't and one team member went any way. 200' of rope was 50' short; he broke his leg. We had no choice but to get closer, to get the other team members to him.
Most extractions were to an LZ that could be an old bomb crater or grassy area. Charlie knew this too and was always hanging out around them waiting. This is when your whole day could go wrong. I can think of no other feeling in the world, standing on the skids of a helicopter so you can see if the team is aboard, while seeing the muzzle flashes and tracers coming at you!
Retuming back to Dak To and refueling, we would either "stand by" or be released to fly resupply to the surrounding area.
It was an unspoken order in 170th to contact any fire base or outpost we flew by on our way home, offering rides to R&R, leave, Med Evac, or DEROS persons. Chief, always a Southem gentleman coined the quote "Ya'll call, we all Haul, Ya'll".
The 170th never refused a mission; that is why SOG and SF requested us so much.
After the final mission of the day, we would head home and refuel: Kontum if we didn't need maintenance, Pleiku if we did. Wherever the final resting point of the day, after shut down the gunner would clean and oil the M-60's and reload, if needed. I would do paper work, flight hours, crew names, etc., then inspect and clean the aircraft for next day. This was time consuming. Most gunners helped; sometimes even the pilots got involved. This is when you found things, like little holes that need patching.
I served just short of two consecutive tours, the working end of a rocket bit me in the ASS. I signed for telegram advising my parents of my wound. I was returned to Ft Eustis and served 41 days until I was discharged.
SP-5 Paul Wilson - Crew Chief
Interesting Web Sites on how things are now being done in the 2003, vs the Vietnam Era:
United States Army Aviation Logistics School , Basic Airborne Course - 2003 Era